Understanding Grief and Loss in the Midst of a Pandemic

By: Kerri Gilbertson

Grief and loss are a normal part of life, but 2020 seems to have brought on a tsunami wave of losses. Grief is traditionally associated with the death of a loved one, which may be part of your grief, but grief can be broadened to encompass all losses someone may experience. At the start of 2020, people wrote out New Year’s resolutions and had expectations of what the year would look like. Unfortunately, many of those hopes have been sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic and focus has turned toward survival rather than personal growth. 

Now is the time to explore and understand how the current situation may actually be triggering feelings of grief and loss. The grief experience is more complex than the widely known 5-stages of grief and is actually a unique, non-linear experience. Common signs of grief may include, but are not limited to: sadness, difficulty concentrating, guilt, anxiety, numbness, loss of control over thoughts and feelings, fatigue, aimlessness, a desire for social isolation, and irritability. 

Grief is not just about death, but also the loss of something. There are many losses happening right now, such as; loss of social support (the ability to physically socialize with friends); not completing the semester like planned (for some, their final semester at MTU); not attending a graduation to celebrate years of hard work; packing and moving out with no closure; potential financial or health loss; and in general, the loss of the assumptive world we live in. Everything we thought was a safety net feels like it isn’t there to catch us. 

Although it may be scary and overwhelming to think about loss, it is important to recognize that these feelings are okay, you are not facing this alone. Even though it does not feel good, grief is normal and healthy, especially during this time. If you are struggling with any of these signs of grief, I want to give some tips on how to handle your experience: 

  1. Acknowledging or recognizing that you are grieving is an important first step.
  2. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to what you are feeling, so be patient with yourself as things may be a little overwhelming for the time being. 
  3. Connect with your social supports through video chats, phone calls or other physically distancing activities. Hearing another person’s voice is important and not just the communication, so make sure you are actually talking with someone else. 
  4. If you are struggling and it is impacting your day-to-day life you may want to consider professional support, either through Counseling Services or a counselor near you. 

Finally, I want to leave you with hope and a reminder of how resilient you are and can be when faced with all these losses. As you have adapted to your new normal, you have demonstrated your personal ability for resilience. Resilience is the ability to face adversity and do your best to adapt and move forward. It can show through in the midst of the chaos and when the dust has settled. It may be a challenge right now, but taking one step at a time and doing what you can is all that you can do and all that you need to do for the time being. As a last reminder of the power of human resilience, I will leave you with this quote by Bernard Williams:  “Man never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.”


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